By Dan O'Neill
Of the Post-Dispatch
01/11/2005

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora opened his Tuesday news conference with news he particularly enjoyed sharing.

"In terms of injuries, which is usually the first question, we will, for the first time in modern NFL history or NFL Falcons history, list no one on our injury report today," a grinning Mora said. "Everyone practiced and everyone is healthy to play and that's a positive. So we're excited about that."

So much for the bye-week blues. Theorists, especially those favoring the Rams this weekend, have put forth the proposition that a team with a week off - particularly a certain team coming off a season-ending loss at Seattle - is a team without momentum, a team without its rhythm. In other words, down time can make a team vulnerable. But history, not to mention Mora's injury report, paints a contrasting picture.

Fact is, over the past 15 years, NFC teams with the bye week leading into the divisional playoffs are 27-3, or 90 percent successful in shaking the rust. On the AFC side, teams coming off byes are 22-8 in their postseason opener. Overall, that computes to a rather decisive 49-11 over the same 60-game period.

"I think having the week off is definitely a positive for us," said fullback Fred McCrary. "The big thing is, you don't spend the time trying to change too much, you know. You don't want to be Einstein and think up some magical game plan, there isn't one. You just go with what got you there."

McCrary acknowledged something is to be said for rhythm, but he added: "Anyone who has watched us practice knows we practice fast. We simulate the game speed as close as possible. So as far as being in a rhythm, it shouldn't hurt us too much. We shouldn't be too far off."


Home-field edge

Linebacker Keith Brooking is looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night. While some believe playing indoors helps the Rams, the Falcons were 7-1 at home during the season and Brooking said there is no question which team the field will favor.

"I know one thing, 70,000-plus fans will be in the Georgia Dome on Saturday night and they will be cheering for us," he said. "Not only does it help us from a motivational standpoint, we feed off the energy and everything, but it creates a lot of problems for the other team.

"Our fans are screaming and hollering at the top of their lungs. I've never played in a louder place; I can't even hear myself talk at times. It's tough for the opposing players to go through their checks and be on key with everything that is going on. So I think that is definitely in our favor. That's what we fought for over 16 games this year."


"Mutual respect"

Going back to Mora's days as defensive coordinator with the San Francisco *****, a rivalry has developed between the Atlanta coach and Rams mentor Mike Martz. However, Mora insists the relationship is contentious only on a friendly, professional basis.

"I just enjoy coaching against teams that he coaches," Mora said. "I have tremendous respect for him and the way he coaches offensive football. I love the fact that he's always in attack mode. He gets criticized for it at times, but I think it's unfounded criticism. I think the proof is in the pudding and he's had great success."

Mora added he wouldn't be surprised if "Mad Mike" concocts some special offensive treats for his Falcons.

"It's always fun to see what he's going to come up with," Mora said